The Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers clash on Sunday Night Football in a monumental showdown of unbeaten teams. This is the just fourth game in pro football history between two clubs with at least six wins, no losses and no ties.
The first such matchup came in 1921 and ended in a 0-0 tie between the Akron Pros and Buffalo All-Americans. The other two games were a bit more entertaining: in 1973, the Vikings beat the Rams, 10-9; and in 2007, the Patriots beat the Colts, 24-0. Coincidence or not, both the Vikings and Patriots went to the Super Bowl that season and lost.
Along with the rare historical nature of this game, it is also an intriguing meeting of two likely future Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- one who is coming off an MVP season and in his prime, the other who is fighting Father Time and in the twilight of his career. This is the second time Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning have faced off on the gridiron. The first matchup was Rodgers' seventh game as a starter, when his Packers' team beat Manning and the Colts, 34-14, on Oct. 19, 2008.
The Packers remain unbeaten after surviving their biggest scare of the season with a Week 6 win against the Chargers. They are 6-0 for the first time since 2011, but hardly resemble that juggernaut squad that won its first 13 games en route to a 15-1 record.
They've been hit hard by injuries this season, and took the entire bye week off from practice to recharge their batteries and get healthy. It also gave the coaches plenty of time to prep for this important matchup. That bodes well for a Green Bay team that has won its last six post-bye games and is 8-1 in games immediately following a bye under coach Mike McCarthy.
A 6-0 start for the Broncos usually means a Super Bowl trip. This is the seventh time Denver has reeled off six straight wins to start a season, and five of those years -- 1977, 1986, 1997, 1998 and 2013 -- Denver went to the Super Bowl.
This year's team has done little to cement its status as a legit contender, however, and with a point differential of plus-37 through six games, it is one of the least dominant 6-0 teams in NFL history. The only 6-0 club that outscored its opponents by fewer points was the 1933 Bears. The struggles of Manning have cast serious doubts on whether this team can beat the best teams, if it has to keep winning with its defense and in spite of the offense.
Although the Broncos and Packers are undefeated, they look nothing like the powerhouse teams that bulldozed opponents in recent years. Both teams were so successful in the past because of their prolific offenses and just-good-enough defenses, but this season the roles are reversed. It is the offensive side of the ball that is a weakness, while the defensive units have fueled their perfect records.
For Denver, the most obvious problem on offense is turnovers. Manning is tied for the league lead in interceptions with 10, the most he's had in the first six games of a season since 1998. Known for his ability to surgically pick apart secondaries at will, it is surprising to see how inaccurate he is this year. Manning's completion rate of 61.6 percent would be his lowest since his he was rookie, and last week he had 14 off-target throws, per ESPN Stats & Information, his most in any game over the last decade.
Green Bay's offense has slowed down considerably over its last three games. The Packers are averaging just 23 points during this stretch, compared to the 32 points per game they scored in the first three weeks of the season. They've really struggled to convert inside the 20 during this recent stretch, scoring touchdowns on just four of nine red zone trips (44 percent); in their first three games of the season, they found the end zone on 70 percent of drives that reached the 20-yard line.
Lacking consistency on offense, both teams have turned to their defenses to win games. The Broncos lead the league in defensive touchdowns (four) and sacks (26), while ranking second in takeaways (17) and points allowed per game (17.0). The only team that has a better scoring defense than Denver is the Packers (16.8), who are also tied for second in sacks (23) and are fourth in opponent passer rating (73.4).
Who to watch
Eddie Lacy has been bothered by an ankle injury he suffered in Week 2, and had just four carries for three yards in the Packers' last game before the bye. That was a shockingly low number for the Packers running back, but with an extra week to get fully healthy, he should see his role in the offense increase on Sunday. However, getting back on track from a production standpoint won't be easy against a Broncos run defense that is allowing the third-fewest yards per rush in the league.
Ronnie Hillman is listed as the No. 2 back on the Broncos official depth chart, but he's clearly the focal point of the backfield now after a couple strong performances in the past few weeks. He has topped 100 yards rushing in two of the past three games and is averaging 6.2 yards per carry during this stretch. Getting Hillman involved in the offense is key for the Broncos, who are 13-0 when the fourth-year back has more than 10 rushes in a game.
How to watch
When: 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
Commentators: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Online: NBC Sports
The experts are calling for a win here by the road team, thinking that the Packers will go into Denver and hand the Broncos their first loss. Over at CBS Sports, five of the eight panelists have Green Bay; at ESPN, the majority are also going with the Packers. Here at SB Nation headquarters, only Stephen White and the OddsShark computer are picking the Broncos.
The Packers are 3-point favorites and the over/under is 45.5, according to OddsShark.com.